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NO GOOD DEED by Manda Scott


March 2003 @ $9.99 CAN.

Shortlisted for the Edgar Allen Poe Award 2003

A tremendously ambitious novel in the tradition of John Buchan’s THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS, Scottish writer Manda Scott's NO GOOD DEED is very accomplished when it deals with the undercover intrigue of The Special Branch in Glasgow and in the Highlands of Western Scotland. Its action fiercely apocalyptic as a small band of hardened operatives, led by Orla McLeod and Murdo Cameron in the field and on the frontlines, contend with the ultra-violent tactics of Tord Svensen an expert at cold-blooded torture and a gang-lord who prides himself upon his ability to completely intimidate and compromise every one in his purview.
Svensen labours mightily to wipe out Orla, Murdo, their implacable superiors, and a young witness to one of his more lurid massacres of his betrayers.
A master of disguise Tord wipes out one secret operative after another remorselessly including Orla’s lover Luke Tyler. Burnt-out but determined to complete her mission McLeod has to return to her past, her parents the victims of sectarian intolerance in Northern Ireland.
Nine-year-old Jamie Buchanan has been squirreled away far away from the slums of Glasgow in the family seaside cottage of Orla McLeod’s mother Morag who tenderly serves the fugitive’s cravings for order and security, and where Orla and Murdo play at being his surrogate parents, and where Jamie learns that there is far more to life for an inquisitive and sturdy youngster than booze, cigarettes and hookers sprawled in tenements that reek of degenerate deviltry and drug-drenched dissipation.
Orla has sacrificed herself body-and-soul to infiltrate the scum who brutalized the boy. Impersonating a whore she has let herself be drugged and bestialized it would appear and she is ready to do so again and again in pursuit of justice and vengeance…....

A classic crime plot - with its fulcrum resting upon an innocent key witness and the tough police officer determined to keep him alive - NO GOOD DEED lingers too often and too tediously upon the Highland country lore and woodcraft that can slowly bring the sorry sodden, shrivelled souls of Orla, Murdo, and Jamie back into true focus. Back to nature and all of its splendours is one thing, but author Scott, time and again loses the reader by tediously taking her people to romp outdoors, albeit capturing the crisply rendered sights, heartening sounds, and pungent regenerative smells of a harsh unforgiving winter without the economy and grace that distinguishes her ingenious set-pieces of derring-do and her admirably terse and invigoratingly devious plotting. The book could be a hundred pages shorter without the insistent reminders that four-legged nature is also brutal and red-in-tooth-and-claw….

In many respects, since almost every character operates under a disguise of some sort or other NO GOOD DEED reads more like a classic espionage thriller than a police-procedural per se, although Scott does bring many fine and intriguing details to her depictions of covert operations that have run off the rails, leading to disastrous smash-ups on the lines ahead. She cannot be faulted for ambition, only for trying too hard to blend and contrast the pastoral with the urban unceasingly.

© Alex Grant April 2003


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